Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter


Paperback, 128 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by Graywolf Press
Source: Publisher

Grief makes you senseless and irrational. It does not make you empty, at least not in my experience, no, it makes you overly full. Memories,, pin-pricks of regrets and the wretched what-ifs, all of these things pool inside you and fill you so you barely know how to contain yourself and them. Your skin stretches over your sadness, your sorrow is thick in your throat and you can barely breathe for fear of breaking apart.

Grief. Or my experience of it.

Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers deals with grief in a very interesting way. I should say that it is written as a response to (maybe) or a retelling of (maybe) Ted Hughes’s poem dealing with crows but since I haven’t the slightest interest in reading Hughes’s work, I just approached this as a completely new work without considering at all anything that it may have taken from the work it alludes to. Not very academic of me but le shrug. I have enough white men on my TBR list to add another one.

Moving right along, let’s consider this book, a slim volume, that follows the effect the passing of a wife and mother as on her husband and children–more so on the father than on the children. The father’s grief manifests itself as a crow…or okay that could be wrong. The Crow (capitalized because that’s how it is referred to in the book) may be a not-so-objective observer of the grief or it could be the grief itself or I don’t know, you do the analysis.

Sort of like a prickly hedgehog you hold on to, Grief, because despite its prickliness it provides some comfort. The narrative is presented in small, non-linear, fragments that give the reader glimpses of the sadness and sorrow the husband feels, the boys feel, and the small ways in which they move on. Rather than a dirge though, the book is often funny with Crow’s rather irreverent remarks lessening what could very well be purple prose. Here, an example:

I missed her so much I wanted to build a hundred-foot memorial to her with my bare hands. I wanted to see her sitting in a vast stone chair in Hyde Park, enjoying her view. Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is. I miss her so much it is a vast golden prince, a concert hall, a thousand trees, a lake, nine thousand buses, a million cars, twenty million birds and more. The whole city is my missing her.

Eugh, said the Crow, you sound like a fridge magnet.

I’ll be honest: this book is not for everyone. It is very abstract in both its style and the themes it tackles. However, grief is not something cut and dried, not something formulaic that can be cured in a set number of days. Grief is the Thing with Feathers is very much an adult novel though I can see young adults enjoying it with a little bit of guidance. The language is interesting and the symbolism stark and urgent.

If you like lyrical language and absurd profundity, you may like this one.

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